Fabricating intimacy : reading the dressing room in Victorian literature\ud

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Puri, Tara (2013)

The Victorian novel is dominated by heroines, its narrative driven by their impulses and their irrepressible physicality. These women possess a strong visual presence that is intrinsically bound with the way in which they choose to dress themselves, with authorial attention consistently focusing on the elements of their clothing. The body was a highly visible, and more significantly, a readable cultural symbol in the Victorian period, with its signifying ability vitally linked to the clothes that adorned it. Clothes have often been employed in literary metaphors – words as the clothing of thought, clothes as a masking of the real, and so on. In his long poem In Memoriam, A.H.H., Tennyson succinctly deploys the quiet grief contained in the idea of widow's weeds, bringing together the expressivity of both clothes and words, when he writes: “In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er, / Like coarsest clothes against the cold” (stanza 5, ll. 9–10). But in the realist Victorian novel, clothes become even more pertinent, offering a useful descriptive device that is pivotal to the creation of a believable, legible character. The awareness of clothing as something that has potential for both restriction of identity as well as expression of it permeates much of Victorian writing, with numerous novels rendering visible the construction of a coherent selfhood through clothing.
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